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Electoral Insight – New Ways of Building Democracy

Electoral Insight – November 1999

Consolidating Democratic Progress – Elections Canada on the International Scene

France Demianenko
Assistant Director of International Services, Elections Canada

Voting at the 1996 presidential elections in Benin.
Voting at the 1996 presidential elections in Benin.
Photo: Dominique-Christine Tremblay

Over the last decade, there has been a noticeable and welcome shift in the focus of international efforts supporting democratic development. The priority once was to help introduce democracy in previously authoritarian states staging their first free elections. Today, the issue is consolidating democratic procedures and institutions in countries that have already accepted and experienced the principle of democratic elections.

Consolidating democracy means first extending the reach of democratic governance. In turn, this translates into allowing a greater proportion of the population to actually vote, and making government more accountable to electors. Equally important, consolidating democracy means making the democratic process, system and institutions of every country independently sustainable over the long term, both politically and financially. As such, international electoral assistance today is rightfully considered a temporary measure. The objective is that each state should become democratically self-sufficient.

This does not preclude long-term international co-operation and sharing. Even the longest-standing and best-established democracies should and indeed do seek to learn from the experience of others, as they forever strive to adapt their systems and institutions to the evolving needs of their electorates.

Elections Canada has wholeheartedly embraced this shift from electoral aid to electoral co-operation. This is apparent throughout the agency's range of international activities, but most of all in its role as a founding member of the Partnership for Electoral and Democratic Development (PEDD). PEDD was created in April 1999 following the first meeting of the Global Electoral Organization (GEO) Network, which was hosted in Ottawa by Elections Canada.

Pooling resources internationally

The groundbreaking PEDD initiative exemplifies the new direction of international efforts to develop democracy. Its rationale is to take advantage of the respective strengths of each partner, combining them into a uniquely effective pool of resources to address the emerging challenges of elections and democratic governance. The organization plans to work in many areas, but always with a view to going beyond short-term projects in response to immediate needs for a given election, to provide a strategy for institutional strengthening.

First and perhaps above all, PEDD means to promote the exchange of knowledge and experience related to organizational and technological developments in the field of electoral procedures and democratic governance.

To this end, it will foster participation in technical co-operation projects and high-level seminars or courses. It will also encourage international, regional and bilateral discussions for sharing democratic knowledge and values. PEDD may also see to the publication, in various languages, of texts that deal with electoral systems, instruments and processes that contribute to the promotion of democratic political culture. In the same spirit, it will arrange for the mutual secondment of specialists on topics of interest.

In a general sense, PEDD will work towards ongoing exchange of information and expertise for the improvement of electoral administration and democratic governance everywhere.

PEDD was created jointly by five organizations: the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), an international, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that has undertaken activities related to democracy and governance in more than 100 countries since 1987; the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), an intergovernmental organization founded in 1995 to promote sustainable democracy and develop standards and guidelines for election administration; the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division (UN-EAD), which provides electoral assistance in numerous countries; the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) of Mexico, that country's non-partisan agency for electoral administration; and Elections Canada.

IFES, IDEA and UN-EAD will concentrate on promoting and sponsoring technical assistance. Mexico's IFE and Elections Canada will contribute experts and knowledge about electoral procedures. Together, they will be mindful to complement the tasks of other international organizations involved in electoral assistance, to avoid duplication of efforts and seek synergies in the quest to build the institutional capacity of electoral organizations. The PEDD intends to be outward-looking. In addition to the structured co-operation among its five founding members, each of the organizations is also free to engage in electoral and democratization activities with other states and organizations, bilaterally and multilaterally.

Supporting Canadian Policy

Namibia, 1989.
Namibia, 1989.

Elections Canada's participation in PEDD is a natural extension of its current international activities. The agency's purpose is to back up Canada's position as an ardent supporter of democratic progress around the world. Canadian policy towards democratic progress on the international scene is directed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT), and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Elections Canada is a partner in implementing that policy. DFAIT and CIDA requests usually involve organizing missions abroad and hosting foreign visits in Canada. Elections Canada also participates actively in international organizations promoting democracy, and has developed bilateral and multilateral links with various countries' electoral organizations.

While Elections Canada's first objective is to support Canadian foreign policy objectives, it fully appreciates that it can itself benefit technically and professionally from involvement in international activities. This is a means of further developing its own expertise for the purposes of electoral management in Canada.

In recent years, Elections Canada has undertaken a great number of activities on the international scene. Country-to-country assistance initiatives have resulted, since 1990, in more than 300 professional, technical and observation missions abroad. Mission mandates included advising on constitutional and election law provisions; advising on all aspects of electoral process administration; conducting pre-election evaluations; providing technical aid and advice; preparing election documents and materials; training election officials; developing and conducting voter education programs; working directly with other electoral bodies to assist in democratic elections; organizing briefing sessions for visiting foreign delegations; providing information on various aspects of the Canadian electoral process; and assisting other countries seeking to facilitate voting in their elections by their citizens residing in Canada.

The agency has also been an active participant in various international forums, including: the Council on Governmental Ethics and Laws (COGEL); the Association of Central and Eastern European Election Officials (ACEEEO); the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers (IACREOT); International IDEA (Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance) where Elections Canada's Assistant Chief Electoral Officer/International Services, Ron Gould, is a senior executive; IFES where the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, is a member of the board and co-chairs the international advisory committee; the Commonwealth; La Francophonie; the Unión Interamericana de Organismos Electorales (UNIORE), or Inter-American Union of Electoral Organizations, and its Centro de Asistencia y Promoción Electoral (CAPEL), or Center for Electoral Promotion and Assistance.

Elections Canada has also organized three trilateral conferences that brought together representatives from the United States, Mexico and Canada and hosted one of the conferences in Ottawa, in 1995. In 1998, it hosted the fourth Inter-American Association of Electoral Authorities conference of the heads of electoral bodies from South, Central and North America. In April 1999, it staged the first conference of the Global Electoral Organization (GEO) Network. In addition, as we have stated, it was a founding member of PEDD.

Consultative Role

In future, Elections Canada intends to further develop its consultative role through ongoing joint initiatives with electoral organizations in other countries. The agency considers this avenue to be an excellent means of exchanging information based on knowledge and experience and provides the opportunity to establish new partnerships with various organizations and the private sector. It favours long-term projects with a strategic value not only immediately before elections but in between international elections where operational pressures do not take precedence over long term development.

In short, it is most likely that Canadian resources will continue to support electoral activities at the request of numerous organizations around the world. Moreover, they will do so in a way that responds to the changing needs of democracy.


The opinions expressed are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.